Summer Trail Camera Strategies to Tag a Buck This Fall
By Alex Comstock
Summer is closing in quickly, and for many of us, that means one thing – deer season is almost here. Among the many things you can be doing during the months between now and the beginning of deer season to better your odds of notching a tag in the fall is to be running trail cameras. Though a time of year you don’t want to be too intrusive or take information for face value, there can be a lot to be learned from trail cameras in the summer. All you need to do is know how to use them, and what to take from the information provided.
When it comes to running trail cameras in the summer, I find it especially vital to do it in a low-impact way. What I mean by this is you don’t want to be going in to spots that could blow out deer or screw up a mature buck. This means you don’t need to be running trail cameras deep in the timber or in spots where you will actually be hunting. What I like to do is have cameras in easy to access spots where you can get in and get out quickly, not leave much scent behind, and still get the information you need.
Great spots for trail cameras are on edges of fields, where you ideally could pull up on an ATV or your vehicle and swap cards and get out clean. If this isn’t an option for you, or you hunt big tracts of public land, try and find any type of food source that isn’t too far into where you figure deer would be bedding. During the summer, I don’t worry if I have cameras that are in spots that encourage nighttime movement, because I just want to know what’s in the area, get inventory and then as fall moves in, I will shift cameras to where I expect bucks to be moving in daylight.
A great way to collect inventory during the summer is by using mineral stations (where legal). There’s a plethora of options you could go with, ranging from things such as trophy rocks, other ready-made store-bought options, or even mixing your own homemade concoction. What I particularly like about running minerals, is you can set up a few different stations on your property, with the bigger your hunting property being, the more stations you would setup. This form of collecting inventory is great because you can pretty much get photos of almost every deer that visits your property during the summer. By getting that inventory, it can be very useful as the summer months fade into fall.
What Do Your Photos Mean?
There can be debate among some deer hunters on what exactly your summer trail camera information collected means. Some think it’s useful, while others think it doesn’t matter because bucks shift home ranges come fall. So, then the question becomes, what do you do with the information you get during June, July and August? To me, I try to break it down into a couple of different categories.
The first thing that I do is use my trail cameras in the summer to collect inventory. I want to know how many does I have around and what bucks are alive. It’s not cut and dry that all bucks will shift home ranges, and the matter of the fact is there will be ones that move off your property, there will be ones that shift, but still stay on your property and there will be bucks that don’t shift home ranges. It isn’t black and white, and that’s why having the inventory in the summer is important and can prove to be fruitful during the fall.
The inventory you collect during the summer more or less acts as a starting point. Once you hunt a property for consecutive years, you can then compare your information to years previous. Let’s say for example you had photos of a buck last year during the summer, and then lost him on camera during the fall, but had a run in with him a half mile away during October. Then this year, he shows back up during the summer. You now have an idea of where he might be during October and can shift your trail cameras accordingly. It may lead you to notching a tag, and without that summer information, you would have been a lot further behind the curve.
Not only do trail cameras just provide you with inventory but if you hunt a state that opens in early September, you can actually use your trail camera information to formulate your hunting strategy the first part of the season. I’ve always found that you have about a week or so after bucks shed their velvet, and then that’s when they either shift or start moving at different times, etc. But if you are getting daylight photos of a shooter buck during the summer, especially at the tail end of August or the first week of September, you can make a move right away and fill your tag.
A great example of this would be last fall in North Dakota. I was hunting opening weekend and had been getting photos regularly of a buck all summer on the corner of a bean field. After checking the camera mid-day September 4th, he had been on it the last two days in a row in daylight. With that knowledge, I came back to that spot, climbed into the stand and tagged that buck that evening. Without my trail cameras helping me in the summer and right up to when I shot him, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that buck.
Though trail cameras are by no means an end all be all, they can certainly help you tag a buck in the fall by using them throughout the summer months. You just need to know how and where to use them and what to do with the information they provide you. Do those things correctly, and your odds of walking up on a buck at the end of a blood trail will no doubt go up.